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What California Attorneys Should Know about MICRA

The June 2016 issue of Plaintiff, discussed why it was important for attorneys in California filing personal injury suits against health-care providers to know about MICRA.

MICRA holds that negligence in the use and maintenance of equipment used to implement a physician’s order about medical treatment means “professional negligence.” When an act is subject to MICRA, the MICRA statute of limitations (and all other MICRA provisions) apply in a lawsuit.

Plaintiff magazine reported about a California personal injury case that went to the California Supreme Court. A patient at a hospital collapsed while attempting to get up from her hospital bed. The latch on the bedrail did not work so the patient fell to the floor.  Under two years later, the patient sued the hospital, claiming general negligence and premises liability.

The trial court sustained the hospital’s demurrer without leave to amend. The plaintiff claimed injury from the fall, but her case was barred by the one-year MICRA statute of limitations under California Code Civ. Proc., § 340.5.

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial decision, ruling the hospital’s alleged failure to use reasonable care in maintaining its premises, and failure to take reasonable precautions to make a dangerous condition safe “sounds in ordinary negligence because the negligence did not occur in the rendering of professional services.”

The California Supreme Court reversed, accepting that, “our courts have long recognized the dividing line between ordinary negligence and professional malpractice may at times be difficult to place.” The high court noted that Section 340.5 is not limited to lawsuits about “those specific tasks that require advanced medical skills and training.”

A medical professional or other medical facility member may commit a negligent act in providing medical care, causing a patient’s injury, even when no specific medical skills were needed to complete the task. Section 340.5 deals with negligence in the rendering of medical care to patients, and does not cover every type of ordinary negligence that occurs on hospital property.

The text and purposes underlying Section 340.5 required the Supreme Court to distinguish between the professional obligations of medical facilities in the providing medical care to patients and the responsibilities hospitals have for all users to keep premises safe.

According to the article, the Supreme Court adopted this rule: “Whether negligence in maintaining hospital equipment or premises qualifies as professional negligence depends on the nature of the relationship between the equipment or premises in question and the provision of medical care to the plaintiff. A hospital’s negligent failure to maintain equipment that is necessary or otherwise integrally related to the medical treatment and diagnosis of the patient implicates a duty that the hospital owes to a patient by virtue of being a health-care provider. Thus, if the act or omission that led to the plaintiff’s injuries was negligence in the maintenance of equipment that, under the prevailing standard of care, was reasonably required to treat or accommodate a physical or mental condition of the patient, the plaintiff’s claim is one of professional negligence under section 340.5.”

Further, the article asserts, the Court limited its decision: “But section 340.5 does not extend to negligence in the maintenance of equipment and premises that are merely convenient for, or incidental to, the provision of medical care to a patient.”

Read the Article Here

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